Self-study indicates University moving ‘on right path’ with room for growth



Greg Doyle

The University recently completed a self-study to reaffirm its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The evaluation highlights the University’s noteworthy expansion in the last 10 years.

The self-study process began in 2008, when over 100 University administrators, faculty and students were asked to participate in the evaluation. Dean of Enrollment Management Steve Merritt, philosophy professor Sally Scholz and Executive Director of the Office of Planning and Institutional Research John Kelley served as the chairs of the self-study.

“The three of us were initially responsible for organizing the entire process,” Merritt said. “We had to understand what Middle States wanted from us and identify who could serve on the steering committees.”

The three chairs were selected to spearhead the evaluation based on their previous involvements in University affairs, according to Scholz. Collectively, they have participated in a diverse list of departments, organizations and committees, making them appropriate leaders for the extensive self-study.

The Middle States evaluation is a comprehensive examination of how the University has changed since the last self-study occurred in 2000. The report combs through every department of the University and assesses its progress.

“If anything, I think the self-study shows that we are on the right path,” Scholz said. “Of course, there are ways to increase the speed to get to our goals, and that’s what Middle States helps us with.”

One of the main purposes of the Middle States self-study is to evaluate how closely the University abides by its mission statement, which is centered around the core values of unitas, veritas and caritas.

All universities have some form of objective that sounds nice on paper, but the self-study sets out to determine if the institutions actually commit to their statements and implement them to campus life. 

According to the self-study, the University has maintained its dedication to community service, particularly since Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., was inaugurated as president in 2006 and the development of the Day of Service. 

Fifty-three percent of the Class of ’08 reported participating in some form of community service throughout his or her college career, versus only 42 percent of the Class of ’05, according to the self-study.

In tandem with the “veritas” pillar, the University subscribes to a goal of being a “diverse community of scholars,” according to the mission statement. 

Based on the evaluation, this is an aspect that demands greater improvement.

Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed agreed that they would like to see more diversity among University students and faculty in the academic setting. 

Eighty-four percent agreed there is a need for greater diversity throughout campus life.

“If we don’t attempt to reflect the diversity of the greater world, then we’re not doing our job,” Merritt said.

Nevertheless, the University has experienced growth in diversity in the last 10 years. According to the self-study, in 2001 only 17.4 percent of the University’s faculty and staff were of a non-Caucasian background. In 2009, the percentage had risen to 20.5.

“In today’s world, we can’t be insular,” Scholz said. “We have to think and respond as global citizens.”

Graduating classes experienced similar increases in diversity, according to the Middle States report. Minorities comprised 12 percent of the Class of ’04, versus 20 percent of the Class of ’14. 

The self-study also reveals incoming classes boasting more impressive test scores with each year. 

The average high school GPA range for the Class of ’04 was 3.40-3.88 with an SAT range of 1160-1300, compared to a range of 3.61-4.00 and 1230-1370 for the Class of ’14.

Beyond the numbers, the overall quality of University students has improved in the last 10 years, according to Merritt.

“The student body has changed a lot since 2000,” Merritt said. “They are much more capable of taking on more. The students are more involved and active.”

In addition to campus life, current students demonstrate a greater interest in pursuing multiple majors, minors and concentrations. As such, the core curriculum revisions for the Class of ’15 and every subsequent class reflect this heightened desire to explore numerous areas of study, according to Scholz.

The Middle States self-study cites the core curriculum revisions for both the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the School of Business as major achievements for the University in the last 10 years. 

According to the report, the new curricula were implemented with the mission statement in mind, revealing a dedication to both progress and University values and traditions.

“I often find that, at Villanova, we feel we are entitled to our reputation as a very substantial and bona fide institution,” Merritt said. “With Middle States, we now have data to support these feelings.”

The self-study’s evaluation of leadership and governance on campus –– in particular, Student Government Association –– suggests greater continuity within the organization.

“In the recommendation, Middle States suggests we evaluate the roles of offices with attention to our constitution,” Student Body President Bridget Halligan said. “This is something we’ve been cognizant of. We do believe the transitions of officers shouldn’t disrupt the structure and path of the organization.”

According to the Middle States report, the structure of SGA should not be contingent on the incumbent president and vice president. Rather, SGA should adopt a formal organization to ensure greater stability from year to year.

Since the self-study was last conducted in 2001, the statistics and recommendations indicate that collectively, the University is progressing and adapting to a more global student body, without abandoning its core values.

“I think the recommendations are important, not just for SGA but for all aspects of the University,” Halligan said. “I think Middle States shows that the Villanova community is committed to positive growth while keeping our mission a priority.”